Category Archives: Around the Majors

An Idiot At Home

Texas against St. Louis.

Who would have predicted that in the pre-season? Texas was still favoured in the AL West, even after losing Cliff Lee, but St. Louis? There was always going to be distractions around that team with the Albert Pujols contract situation, but then throw in losing Adam Wainwright for the season? Their season seemed done even before it started. I wrote them off in a post back in February. Oops.

But that was far from the only “oops” I made this year in predicting the wild world of baseball. So before I make one final prediction about who wins the World Series, I thought I’d treat readers to a hilarious look at just how bad I was this past season. In honour of the Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington show An Idiot Abroad, may I present a look back at my 2011 predictions: An Idiot At Home.

In the AL, I completely nailed the AL West, but made such a mockery of the Central that I should be ashamed of myself. I drank the Boston Kool-Aid too, when

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as it turned out I should have been drinking beer like the rest of the Red Sox.

In the NL, I flat out stunk, somehow not believing in the Phillies, and for some bizarre reason having a lot of faith in the Cubs. Picked the Mets right though! Consolation!

Overall Score: Correctly slotted 7 of 14 AL teams, and 3 of 16 NL teams, for a total score of 10 / 30 or 33%. TERRIBLE!

I had faith in Jose Bautista, and apparently am really good at predicting who will steal the most bases. Other than that, pure trash. I had no confidence what-so-ever in Verlander or Kershaw, and both won their respective pitching Triple Crowns. Oops.

Overall Score: Correctly predicted 2 of 8 AL leaders and only 1 of 8 NL leaders for a total of 3 / 16 or 18.75%. AWFUL!

The White Sox, Reds, and Rockies not only missed the playoffs – they finished a combined 24 games below .500.

Overall Score: I only successfully predicted 3 of the 8 playoff teams, for a 37.5% grade. BRUTAL!

These predictions were made before each round of the playoffs began. I obviously showed no confidence in both Detroit and St. Louis and a ton of faith in the Brewers. If only they remembered how to field ground balls…

Overall Score: Six postseason series have been played and I was right about three of them. 50%!

Final Grade: If you combine all four areas of predictions, I regret to announce that 500 Level Fan is in danger of being expelled from the school of baseball forecasting. Only 31.7% of my predictions have been accurate, for a big fat F.

I have only one chance left to redeem myself: check back shortly for my 2011 World Series pick.

Then do yourself a favour and bet the opposite.

And The Winners Are…500 Level Fan’s BBA Awards Ballot

For the second consecutive year (feels a bit strange that this blog has survived two

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seasons now), the Baseball Bloggers Alliance has asked members to submit a ballot for the annual BBA Awards. Just like last season, there are five awards up for grabs – one each for top rookie, manager, reliever, pitcher, and player. While some of the award winners should be dead obvious (hello Mr. Verlander), I’m sure there will be a lot of debate for others.

So without further ado, I present to you the 500 Level Fan BBA Award Ballot!

Connie Mack Award – Top Manager

American League

1. Joe Maddon – Tampa Bay Rays

On September 3rd, Tampa Bay trailed Boston by 9 games for the AL Wild Card, and were seemingly playing out the string. But Maddon never lost faith in his troops, and guided them to a 17-8 finish including an incredible season finale to steal the Wild Card. Some could point that Boston’s collapse had more to do with it, but Tampa went 6-1 against the Red Sox in September – they were good. The fact that they were even in contention after losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Randy Choate, and Joaquin Benoit in the offseason is a huge credit to Maddon.

2. Jim Leyland – Detroit Tigers

Delivered a division title despite early season off-field distractions caused by Miguel Cabrera.

3. Manny Acta – Cleveland Indians

Cleveland was supposed to be terrible, but lead the Central for much of the season and were in the race until September.

National League

1. Kirk Gibson – Arizona Diamondbacks

From 65 wins and a last place finish in 2010 to 94 wins and a division title in 2011, Gibson oversaw one of baseball’s great turnarounds. While many questioned the decision to hire him in the first place, he proved adept at handling the bullpen (Arizona’s pen was vastly improved), and seemed to push the right buttons with chronic underperformer Justin Upton.

2. Ron Roenicke – Milwaukee Brewers

He was under a lot of pressure as a rookie manager to win this year, and he did.

3. Charlie Manuel – Philadelphia Phillies

Sure he had a fantastic team built for him, but to win 102 games is an achievement regardless of the quality of personnel.

Willie Mays Award – Top Rookie

American League

1. Eric Hosmer – Kansas City Royals

Made his debut on May 6th with a lot of hype and pressure (“the saviour of the Royals”), but Hosmer delivered. Of all AL rookies to appear in 100 games, he was 1st in OPS (.799), 2nd in slugging (.465), 1st in average (.297), 3rd in HR (19), and T2nd in RBI (78). He even threw 11 SB into the mix for good measure. Things are looking up in KC.

2. Ivan Nova – New York Yankees

Blossomed into a quality number 2 starter for the Yanks (16-4, 3.70 ERA, 98 K).

3. Mark Trumbo – LA Angels

29 HR and a .768 OPS for the first baseman helped the Angels contend despite terrible seasons from many veterans.

National League

1. Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves

Set a rookie record (and tied for the NL lead) with 46 saves, Kimbrel was lights out in the Atlanta bullpen this year. In 77 IP he allowed only 18 earned runs, and only 48 hits for a miniscule 2.10 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Even more impressive was his ridiculous 127 strikeouts, a nonsensical 14.8 K/9 and 3.97 K/BB.

2. Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves

Overcame a slow start to finish with outstanding numbers: .282 average, .795 OPS, 21 HR, 32 2B.

3. Vance Worley – Philadelphia Phillies

Came from seemingly nowhere to replace the injured Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt and ended up 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 119 K’s.

Goose Gossage Award – Top Reliever

American League

1. Mariano Rivera – New York Yankees

Will this guy ever slow down? At 41 years of age Mo had one of his best seasons for the Yankees, finishing with 44 saves. For the 8th time in 9 years his ERA was below 2.00 (1.91) and his WHIP was well below 1.00 for the fourth straight season (0.897). The old man still has pinpoint control, evidenced by him surrending a mere eight (EIGHT!!!) walks in 61.1 IP. The best of all time.

2. Jose Valverde – Detroit Tigers

Was perfect in leading the AL in saves (49 for 49), but his peripheral stats were just a bit worse than Rivera’s.

3. Jordan Walden – LA Angels

Great season for the rookie who took over the closer’s role in early April: 32 saves, 2.98 ERA, 67 K.

National League

1. Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves

Similar numbers to the man I placed second, but you can’t ignore that strikeout rate (127 in 77 IP) or the opponents batting average (.178). A dominant season.

2. John Axford – Milwaukee Brewers

Terrible start for the Canadian (imploded spectacularly on Opening Day), but he rebounded to tie Kimbrel with 46 saves, and posted a 1.95 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

3. J.J. Putz – Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona had the worst bullpen in the majors in 2010, but Putz anchored an impressive turnaround in ’11, finishing with 45 saves, a 2.17 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP.

Walter Johnson Award – Top Pitcher

American League

1. Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers

Probably the easiest choice of any award, maybe even ever. Verlander was unbelievably dominant in 2011, winning the AL pitching triple crown (24 wins, 2.40 ERA, 250 K). Though wins have become a fairly meaningless stat in recent times, his 24-5 record is still impressive, no matter the circumstances. Throw in the fact that he was the only AL starter with a sub-1.00 WHIP (0.92) and also lead (by a mile) in opponents batting average (.192), and it’s a no-brainer. Oh…did I mention he also threw a no-hitter?

2. Jered Weaver – LA Angels

His 18-8 record, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 198 K’s would have been Cy Young worthy in any other year except this one.

3. James Shields – Tampa Bay Rays

A huge bounce back season for “Big Game James”. He lead the league with 11 complete games and 4 shutouts.

4. CC Sabathia – New York Yankees

While not quite as dominant as the top-3, Sabathia went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA and 230 K’s to anchor a Yankee rotation that was in disarray all season long.

5. Ricky Romero – Toronto Blue Jays

Yes he may still walk a few too many batters (80 in ’11), but Romero’s 2.92 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in the tough AL East proves he has taken the next step towards “ace-hood”.

National League

1. Roy Halladay – Philadelphia Phillies

He didn’t have to be as dominant this year, what with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt to help carry the load, but Halladay went out and dominated anyways. His 2.35 ERA was a career best, and he lead the NL in complete games (8), BB/9 (1.3) and K/BB (6.29). Throw in a 19-6 record, 220 K, a 1.04 WHIP, and his 6th straight season with at least 220 IP, and you have the best pitcher in the game.

2. Clayton Kershaw – LA Dodgers

Kershaw did win the NL Triple Crown (21 wins, 2.28 ERA, 248 K), and his 0.98 WHIP and .207 opponents average were both better than Halladay. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that 27% of his starts came against the NL’s two worst offenses (San Francisco and San Diego).

3. Cliff Lee – Philadelphia Phillies

A career high 238 strikeouts to complement a 2.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP makes him – by far – the best #2 starter in the game.

4. Cole Hamels – Philadelphia Phillies

And how about the best #3 starter? 14-9, 2.73 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 194 strikeouts – not too shabby.

5. Ian Kennedy – Arizona Diamondbacks

Blossomed into a staff ace in the desert, finishing with 21 wins and a 2.88 ERA, and likely making the Yankees regret trading him away.

Stan Musial Award – Top Player

American League

1. Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

The Stan Musial award, by definition, goes to the top player in each league – not the most valuable, which should go a long way in eliminating silly biases towards playoff and non-playoff teams. With the vagueness around the word valuable removed, there is really only one player who can possibly win this award – Jose Bautista. Called a fluke after his 54-HR breakout campaign in 2010, Bautista had an even better season in 2011. His HR total decreased by 11, but his other numbers increased dramatically, most noticeably his average (up from .260 to .302). Bautista lead the league in HR, walks (132), slugging (.608), OPS (1.056), and intentional walks (24), and was second in OBP (.447). He also played capable defense at two different positions, and was the hands down, undisputed leader of the Jays clubhouse. The slam dunk winner.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury – Boston Red Sox

After a disastrous 2010, he came back with a vengeance, ending up as Boston’s best player. .321 AVG, .928 OPS, 32 HR, 39 SB, and an outstanding defensive centrefielder.

3. Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers

Shook off some off-field issues in the spring to win the AL batting title and OBP crown, crush a 1.033 OPS and 30 HR, and lead the Tigers to the playoffs.

4. Curtis Granderson – New York Yankees

A breakout season that many expected last year, Granderson smacked 41 HR and lead the AL in runs by a mile. Held back a bit by a low average and a ton of strikeouts.

5. Adrian Gonzalez – Boston Red Sox

Was expected to destroy Fenway Park, and he did, tying for the AL lead in hits and tying for second in average.

The rest:

6. Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers

7. Paul Konerko – Chicago White Sox

8. Ian Kinsler – Texas Rangers

9. Evan Longoria – Tampa Bay Rays

10. Alex Gordon – Kansas City Royals

National League

1. Matt Kemp – LA Dodgers

A man who has been burdened by intense criticism his entire career, Kemp finally put it all together this year. He was extremely close to winning baseball’s first offensive triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski finishing 3rd in average (.324), 1st in HR (39), and 1st in RBI (126). Kemp also lead the league with 115 runs and 353 total bases, on his way to a .986 OPS and 10.0 WAR. He was an outstanding all around player, shown by his +9 Total Zone rating, and his 40 stolen bases. The fact that he was able to produce while playing in the lunacy that was the LA Dodgers in 2011 gives him a few bonus points.

2. Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers

The top OPS in the NL (.994), Braun did it all for the Brewers. With 33 SB and 33 HR he was a member of the 30/30 club and he also played above average defense for the first time in his career.

3. Prince Fielder – Milwaukee Brewers

If this really was his last year as a Brewer he went out with a bang – 38 HR, 120 RBI, .981 OPS, and part of the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball.

4. Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds

The defending NL MVP didn’t make many headlines with the Reds having a terrible season, but he still produced outstanding numbers, leading the NL with a .416 OBP and finishing with 29 HR and 103 RBI.

5. Lance Berkman – St. Louis Cardinals

A much criticized off-season signing, Berkman shut up all the critics by leading the Cardinals to the playoffs in an off year for Pujols, with a stat line of 31 HR, .301 AVG, and .959 OPS.

The rest:

6. Troy Tulowitzki – Colorado Rockies

7. Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals

8. Jose Reyes – New York Mets

9. Roy Halladay – Philadelphia Phillies

10. Mike Stanton – Florida Marlins

500 Level Fan’s All-Stars (and No-Stars…)

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, it is my sworn duty to submit my All-Star selections. I know that some people may complain about writing posts like this, but not me. Far from it. I actually enjoy looking around the league and expanding my horizons to the non-Blue Jay world of MLB.

As an added bonus, I decided to not only name who I think should be in the ASG

for each league (AL and NL), but to also name who I would select for baseball’s annual (and fictional) No-Star game. Since these players have been performing so poorly this year, the No-Star game would have to be non-baseball related to save people from actually having to watch it. Maybe they would face in off in an AL vs. NL pie eating contest, or a horseshoe tournament.

Just as long as they stay far away from a baseball diamond…

So sit back and enjoy 500 Level Fan’s All-Star and No-Stars for 2011:

Catcher

All-Stars: – Alex Avila (Detroit, AL) and Brian McCann (Atlanta, NL)

– Avila has seemingly come out of nowhere with 9 HR, 41 RBI, and a .300 average, while McCann is producing his usually huge numbers. His 13 HR leads all catchers.

No-Stars – Jeff Mathis (LA Angels, AL) and Geovany Soto (Chicago Cubs, NL)

– I so badly wanted to write Posada down here, but he isn’t really a catcher anymore and one can’t ignore the abyss that is Mathis. The fact that he has 132 AB is astounding considering his 25 hits, .189 AVG, and 11 RBI. I know Soto’s been injured, but a .215 average for a supposedly elite catcher is awful.

First Base

All-Stars: – Adrian Gonzalez (Boston, AL) and Prince Fielder (Milwaukee, NL)

– Pretty good first year in the AL for Gonzalez (.359 AVG and 69 RBI lead the league). Fielder is making more money for himself by the day in his contract year with 20 HR, 63 RBI, and a +.300 average.

No-Stars – Dan Johnson (Tampa Bay, AL) and Carlos Pena (Chicago Cubs, NL)

– Penciled in as the Opening Day 1B to replace Carlos Pena, Johnson was so bad (.115 AVG) that he lost his job AND got sent to the minors. Pena moved to Wrigley, and though he has 13 HR, he also has 71 strikeouts and an .075 AVG vs. Lefties – all for $10 million.

Second Base

All-Stars: – Robinson Cano (New York, AL) and Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee, NL)

– Just another ho-hum year for Cano (.299, 14 HR) and Weeks is continuing his breakout in Milwaukee (14 HR, 53 runs).

No-Stars – Aaron Hill (Toronto, AL) and Dan Uggla (Atlanta, NL)

– Ugh – not the bounceback year we hoped for from Hill. Insert pun here for Uggla’s pile of vomit in 2011 (huge contract, .177 AVG).

Third Base

All-Stars: – A-Rod (New York, AL) and Placido Polanco (Philadelphia, NL)

– Experience is king this year at 3B, with A-Rod and Polanco (both 35) outproducing their younger counterparts. Polanco is a definite surprise – I didn’t know he was still playing!

No-Stars – Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto, AL) and Pedro Alvarez (Pittsburgh, NL)

– Too easy to name EE – he can’t field, can’t throw, can’t hit, and can’t run. Alvarez was supposed to be one of the young Pirates to lead Pittsburgh to a .500 record but is currently on the DL – with a .208 average.

Shortstop

All-Stars: – Asdrubal Cabrera (Cleveland, AL) and Jose Reyes (New York, NL)

– The most suprising player behind the most surprising team, Asdrubal has a cool name and great numbers (49 R, 12 HR, 43 RBI, .296 AVG, and 12 SB). Reyes looks rejuvenated with 26 steals, and could be a prime trade candidate in the second half.

No-Stars – Reid Brignac (Tampa Bay, AL) and Rafael Furcal (LA, NL)

– Jeter has been awful, but Brignac has been spectacularly awful, hitting just .177 with no power. Furcal has already been on the DL twice. A third trip awaits him upon his return.

Outfield

All-Stars: – Jose Bautista (Toronto, AL), Curtis Granderson (New York, AL), Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston, AL), and Matt Kemp (LA, NL), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee, NL), Lance Berkman (St. Louis, NL)

– Power and Speed – Bautista and Granderson have been hitting HR like crazy, and Ellsbury hasn’t let an injury packed 2010 slow him down (24 SB). In the NL,

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Kemp has taken off (already in the 20/20 club), Braun is a triple crown threat, and Berkman has come back from the dead with a shocking .307 average and 17 HR.

No-Stars – Vernon Wells (LA Angels, AL) and Dexter Fowler (Colorado, NL)

– Injuries have played a part, and he is a nice guy, but still – Vernon Wells is under the Mendoza line in late June. Fowler was supposed to be a top-of-the-order sparkplug for the Rockies, but now finds himself in the minors.

Starting Pitcher

All-Stars: – Justin Verlander (Detroit, AL) and Roy Hamels (Philadelphia, NL)

– A no-hitter, nearly a second no-hitter, 9 wins, a 0.85 WHIP, and 110 K’s – is Justin Verlander the best pitcher in baseball? I cheated here, but figure that’s OK because Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay are really the same guy, at least according to the stats. Both have 9 wins and a 2.51 ERA, and while Roy has more K’s (119 – 103), Cole has a better WHIP (0.93 – 1.04). They both win.

No-Stars – John Lackey (Boston, AL) and Javier Vazquez (Florida, NL)

– That Boston is in first despite Lackey getting a regular turn in the rotation is crazy. He stinks (7.36 ERA, 38 K’s). Some thought that a return to the NL would help Vazquez, but a 6.37 ERA shows that it hasn’t. He’s finished.

Non-Closing Reliever

All-Stars: – Al Alburquerque (Detroit, AL) and Jonny Venters (Atlanta, NL)

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his 15.04 K/9 is so good it doesn’t even make sense. Venters is simply crazy – 0.57 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 50 K’s.

No-Stars – Bobby Jenks (Boston, AL) and Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati, NL)

– His move into a set-up role was supposed to make the Red Sox pen rock solid, but Jenks stunk it up before getting hurt to the tune of a 2.35 WHIP. Chapman was supposed to be the next best star, but with 20 BB in 13 IP, he is starring in the minors.

Closer

All-Stars: – Mariano Rivera (New York, AL) and Joel Hanrahan (Pittsburgh, NL)

– 41 years old and still dominating, Rivera’s ERA is under 2.00 and his 19 saves are second in the AL. Hanrahan was supposed to lose his closers job early on, but he has been lights out for Pittsburgh (20 saves, 1.31 ERA, 0.96 WHIP).

No-Stars – Joe Nathan (Minnesota, AL) and Brandon Lyon (Houston, NL)

– Both lost their closers job after some brutal performances, both were heavily responsible for their teams dismal on-field performance, and both are now on the DL. Terrible stuff.

Ten Shocking Statistics

As we approach the end of April, the 2011 baseball season is officially one month old. 

Though sample sizes are still fairly small, with four weeks of games in the books there is enough time to make some judgements about certain players and teams.  For example – San Diego stinks.

It is an absolute certainty that some slumping players will turn their season around, just as it’s certain that players who started hot will finish cold.  But still, one month in there are ten stats that simply jump out, that are too odd to ignore.

Take a look and judge for yourself as 500 Level Fan presents 10 Shocking Statistics: 5 for the Blue Jays and 5 from around the majors.

0 – Intentional Walks issued to Jose Bautista.  107 players in the majors have drawn an intentional walk, but the season’s best hitter (and WAR leader) is not among them.  Powerhouses such as Josh Thole, Humberto Quintero, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Rod Barajas each have IBB’s – but not Bautista.  You’d think with the struggles of those hitting behind him that Bau would have several.  Not so.

99 – Plate Appearances by Travis Snider before the Jays pulled the plug on him and sent him to triple-A Vegas.  While true he was only hitting .184, and while true that he is young, the Jays made a commitment to stick with him this year, so his demotion was surprising.  After all, cold starts are nothing new to baseball.  Snider’s .184 average is better than that of Dan Uggla, Vernon Wells, Jack Cust, Mark Reynolds, Magglio Ordonez, Brett Gardner, Raul Ibanez, Austin Jackson, Carl Crawford, and Alex Rios.  But – never question Anthopoulos…

3 – Total Zone Fielding  Runs Above Average for Adam Lind, best in the American League.  One of the biggest uncertainties coming into 2011 was how well Lind would handle first base, a position he hadn’t played since college.  Well, so far so good.  He has shown excellent range (a 9.54 range factor per game – 3rd in the AL), and a great ability to dig balls out of the dirt, giving the Jays one less concern to worry about.

2.38 / 1.06 – ERA and WHIP for Jason Frasor.  Why is this shocking?  Because it’s so low.  I swear that everytime Frasor takes the mound he immediately gets into trouble.  A solo home run, a hit, a walk, two walks.  I expected much higher numbers.  But apparently he is allowing just over one baserunner per inning – and only 3 walks!  The surprise stat of the night.

2 – Triples for J.P. Arencibia.  I’ve watched almost every Jays game this year, and I can say with 100% accuracy that the Toronto catcher is NOT fast.  Sure pitted against Jose Molina in a race he’d look like Usain Bolt, but in the normal course of a game, JPA is a slow runner.  Yet there he is, tied for 4th in the major leagues with 2 triples.  Shocking.

.667 – Winning Percentage of the Cleveland Indians, best in the American League.  Widely picked to finish last (yes, behind Kansas City!) the Indians are red hot, including a sparkling 10-2 record at hom.

.160 – Batting Average of Carl Crawford.  The $142-million man has been awful so far in Boston.  Things are so bad that Terry Francona is batting him 8th.  Terrible!

7 – Errors committed by both Starlin Castro of the Cubs and Ian Desmond of the Nationals, putting them on pace for 47 errors each on the season.  Nobody has committed that many errors since Roy Smalley of the Cubs in 1950 – he made 51.  Errors are becoming more criticized by the day, but seven is a lot no matter how you look at it. (It’s worth nothing that Edwin Encarnacion has 5 errors in 7 games, but is on pace for fewer due to his time spent at DH and out of the lineup).

2 – Home Runs hit by Adam Dunn – one on Opening Day, and one on April 15.  Many (me included) predicted huge things for the slugger when he came to Chicago.  I thought 40 HR was a near lock.  But it’s been 12 games without a dinger for Dunn, and the rest of his stats look even uglier during that time: .116 AVG, .364 OPS, 3 RBI, 19 K. 

24 – Consecutive games with a hit for Andre Ethier of the Dodgers, a new record for the month of April.  He has a hit in all but one game this season – game #2.  This isn’t shocking in terms of the player – Ethier is, if not a star now, an up-and-coming star.  But when you combine the fact that the Dodgers are in turmoil, to the fact that it’s April and players are still getting loose, to the fact that he plays in the NL West with some great pitching…..it’s pretty good.

2011 Predictions – MLB

It’s that time of year again. After many dark, cold, and long months spent dreaming of baseball, it’s nearly time to get the season started. At 1:05 PM Eastern time on Thursday, the winter dream becomes a reality when the 2011 MLB season kicks off in Washington and New York.

With Opening Day almost here, that also means it’s time once again to predict the upcoming season. For those of you who follow this space often, you know my track record with predictions. It is horrible, awful, putrid, and embarrassing. But it’s also one of my favourite columns to write for two reasons: 1) it’s fun and usually begins some banter among friends and readers, and 2) it gives me the chance to review it later on in the season to see just how big of a joke my predictions were.

This year at 500 Level Fan the predictions column will split over two days. Today I’m going to cover MLB predictions, including final standings, playoff results, award winners, and some miscellaneous categories. Tomorrow I’ll put my focus on the Blue Jays, with some individual and team predictions. Then on Thursday, it all begins.

So sit back, read on, try not to laugh, and get ready to comment.

American League Predictions

East

1. Boston

2. New York

3. Tampa Bay

4. Toronto

5. Baltimore

Thoughts: As much as it makes me want to vomit in my own mouth, I have to put Boston first. The Red Sox look extremely good. That said, they are far from fire-proof. Gonzalez is coming off major shoulder surgery, Crawford has never played in a big market, and Josh Beckett is terrible…..The Yankees have pitching problems, but should be able to finish high with a hard hitting (and aging) lineup…..Tampa Bay lost so many players, but still have Longoria and Price, and have a ton of talent in the minors. Don’t ask me why, but I expect a nice season from Manny…..Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on the 2011 Jays….Baltimore still sucks. Adding Derek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, and Mark Reynolds kind of reminds me of the Leafs in ’05, when they brought in Jason Allison, Eric Lindros, and Jeff O’Neill to join Sundin and Belfour. Older and worse.

Central

1. Chicago

2. Minnesota

3. Detroit

4. Kansas City

5. Cleveland

Thoughts: The addition of Dunn to Chicago was one of the best of the winter. Paul Konerko is still very good, and if Jake Peavy can come back they’ll be scary. Even with class clowns like Rios and Pierzynski…..Minnesota has the chance to be good, but have far too many question marks surrounding Nathan, Morneau, Mauer, and Nishioka…..Detroit has one of the best pitching/hitting duos in the league in Verlander and Cabrera, and now have Victor Martinez too. But behind Verlander and Scherzer, their rotation falls off…..Kansas City has a great farm system but a terrible major league team…..Cleveland has an even worse major league team.

West

1. Texas

2. Anaheim

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

Thoughts: Texas lost Cliff Lee but gained Adrian Beltre and are still better than eveybody else. Neftali Feliz should be in the rotation though…..Yes he’s older, can’t hit outside of Toronto, and has lost some mobility, but I think Vernon Wells makes the Angels better than they were a year ago…..I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. A good rotation, yes. But how does adding Josh Willingham (career .265 hitter), David DeJesus (no power), and Hideki Matsui (76 years old), help Oakland’s offense?…..Remember when Seattle was supposed to be good?

Wildcard

Yankees – but only because I think they trade for another starter. Based on how the teams are constructed right now, I vote Minnesota.

Stat Leaders

HR – Jose Bautista, TOR – he gives a big “eff you” to all the doubters

RBI – Bautista, TOR

Average – Ichiro, SEA

SB – Brett Gardner, NYY

Wins – Jon Lester, BOS

ERA – Gio Gonzalez, OAK

K – Brandon Morrow, TOR

Sv – Mariano Rivera, NYY

Awards

MVP – Adam Dunn, CWS

Cy Young – Jon Lester, BOS

Rookie – J.P. Arencibia, TOR (I believe in him)

Manager – Ron Gardenhire, MIN

National League Predictions

East

1. Atlanta

2. Philadelphia

3. Florida

4. NY Mets

5. Washington

Thoughts: Atlanta is younger with a better offense. Rotation is very solid as well…..Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels can’t make up for the loss (for who knows how long) of Utley, and the

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below average seasons of Ibanez, Howard, Rollins, and Victorino…..Florida is good but they lose points because their owner is an idiot….The Mets are a disaster off the field. They have some nice pieces on the field still, but the lingering injury questions around Bay, Beltran, and Santana are too much…..Washington might be able to field a competitive team next year.

Central

1. Cincinnati

2. Chicago

3. Milwaukee

4. St. Louis

5. Houston

6. Pittsburgh

Thoughts: Votto is the reigning MVP and I expect a huge year from Jay Bruce. There are questions about the rotation, but I think the Reds come out on top…..This is a risky pick, but Quade is a good manager and if Soriano and Ramirez can bounce back even a little bit, the Cubbies could contend…..I really want to believe in Milwaukee. I really do. But they are really banged up and for a team with little depth, that is a problem. Marcum should be great though…..St. Louis was doomed right away with the loss of Wainwright. How big of a distraction will Pujols be?….Houston is stuck in between two eras…..Pittsburgh will always be in last until they prove they can have a winning season.

West

1. Colorado

2. San Francisco

3. Los Angeles

4. San Diego

5. Arizona

Thoughts: If Colorado can finally start playing before July, they could run away with the division…..The Giants are still good, but how much did last year’s run take out of them?….A transition year for the Dodgers…..San Diego will drop back without Gonzalez…..Arizona has a few nice pieces, but not enough to be taken seriously.

Wildcard

Phillies – but barely ahead of San Fran.

Stat Leaders

HR – Ryan Braun, MIL

RBI – Albert Pujols, STL

Average – Troy Tulowitzki, COL

SB – Michael Bourn, HOU

Wins – Roy Halladay, PHI

ERA – Tommy Hanson, ATL

K – Ubaldo Jimenez, COL

Sv – Heath Bell, SD

Awards

MVP – Joey Votto, CIN

Cy Young – Tommy Hanson, ATL

Rookie – Freddie Freeman, ATL

Manager – Mike Quade, CHC

Playoffs

AL

White Sox over Yankees

Red Sox over Rangers

White Sox over Red Sox

NL

Reds over Braves

Phillies over Rockies

Phillies over Reds

World Series

Even though I don’t have them winning the division, I think the Phillies rotation takes them through October to the Championship.

Kevin Slowey? Really?

A message popped up on my Twitter feed yesterday. The message (from mlbtraderumors.com) told me that the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in acquiring Kevin Slowey from the Minnesota Twins.

One look at that and I had to ask myself:

Really?

Kevin Slowey?

Why?

On the surface I can see people getting excited about it:

– Slowey is young (he’ll turn 27 in May)

– He has a career record of 39 – 21

– Over the past two seasons he has a record of 23 – 9

– He doesn’t walk many batters (career BB/9 of 1.5)

But as any knowledgeable baseball fan knows, there is more to a pitcher than wins and losses. Much, much more.

Wins and losses are heavily team influenced. Pitching for the last place Mariners, Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez had only three more wins (13) than the erratic and idiotic A.J. Burnett had (10) for the Yankees.

Considering that the Twins won 348 games over the past four years, including back-to-back AL Central titles, Slowey should have a good record. That’s not a selling feature, it’s more of a necessity.

When you remove his W-L record from the equation, the rest of his stats are middling: 4.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.9 K/9. Average.

Toronto shouldn’t be focused on acquiring an average pitcher.

On top of that, here are three more reasons why Slowey is a bad fit:

1. Because you have to get rid of somebody to get him

The most logical candidate might be Jo-Jo Reyes who came over with Yunel Escobar last year and is out of options. But Minnesota would likely want more. And who else would Toronto give up? One of the options for the closer’s role? A solid middle relief option like Janssen or Camp? Not worth it.

2. Because he’d take a starting spot away from somebody

In all likelihood, the top three are set – Romero, Morrow, Cecil. The battle for the final two spots is intense, and crowded, with Marc Rzepczynski, Jessie Litsch, Kyle Drabek, and maybe even Reyes, Brad Mills, Zach Stewart, and Scott Richmond having a shot.

Adding Slowey does nothing but complicate that battle. When doing a straight statistical comparison, I’m not sure I’d even want Slowey:

Career Stats

Kevin Slowey: 39 – 21, 4.41 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, turns 27 in May

Jessie Litsch: 21 – 24, 4.10 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.5 K/9, just turned 26

Marc Rzepczynski: 6 – 8, 4.32 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, turns 26 in August

(Drabek only has three career starts)

Again – the only thing that really sets Slowey above the other two is his W-L record, which is essentially meaningless.

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I’d prefer the K potential of Rzep and the plush red beard of Litsch any day.

3. Slowey struggles against the AL East

When looking at Slowey’s career splits two things become obvious. One is that he pads his record against Cleveland, Kansas City, and Detroit, and two is that he struggles mightily against the AL East. Since Toronto plays in the AL East, that could be a problem.

vs. NYY: 1 – 1, 4.76 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

vs. BOS : 1 – 2, 4.86 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

vs. BAL: 1 – 2, 4.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

vs. TB: 0 – 1, 6.75 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

While both Litsch and Rzep have poor numbers against the Yankees both have fared very well against the rest of the division, especially Litsch against Boston (4-2 record, 3.83 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) and Rzep against Tampa (0-0 record, 2.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP).

It’s a big step-up in competition going from the Royals and the Indians to the Yankees and Red Sox. I’d rather have somebody in the rotation who knows what it takes.

Worst Case Scenario

It must be tough to be a Cardinals fan right now.

On the heels of “Albert-ageddon”, where Pujols did not sign a contract extension before his self-imposed deadline and may now become a free agent at seasons end, comes this:

Adam Wainwright needs Tommy John surgery.

Ouch.

That means St. Louis, a team that will be dogged all season by constant and rampant Pujols speculation, must now do without their staff ace for at least this season.  Since recovery time is normally 12-15 months, AW might also miss part of next season.  A crushing blow.

Wainwright finished second in NL Cy Young voting last season after posting a 20-11 record, 2.42 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 213 K in 230.1 IP.  In the past four seasons he has gone 64-34, with a 2.93 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 652 K in 797.1 IP.

Those numbers will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

With Pujols, Holliday, and Carpenter still on the roster, the season isn’t over by any means, but the odds just got a LOT longer.

All of which got me thinking about the Jays – does Toronto have a player on the current roster who, if lost for the season today, would cause fans to say “it’s over”?

I thought about it, and I think the answer is no. 

There are really only five players who can even be remotely considered:

– Jose Bautista

– Aaron Hill

– Adam Lind

– Ricky Romero

– Brandon Morrow

The Jays essentially won 85 games last year without Hill and Lind, so they’re out.  Morrow was shut down early last year, and might be shut down early again this year, so no.  This will be Romero’s first year as the ace of the staff, but he hasn’t done enough in his career to suggest he would be a season-crusher.

That leaves Bautista.  Many will argue that if he goes down, we’re sunk.  Iin a way that’s true.  But consider this: a) we aren’t going to contend anyways, and b) he has no track record, nothing to indicate that he will pop 50 HR again this year.

So no, there is not a single member on this year’s club whose loss would hurt like Wainwright’s.

We don’t really have a player who means as much to the club as Lincecum does to SF, or Longoria does to Tampa Bay, or even Votto does to Cincinnati. 

Not sure if that’s a good thing (one significant injury wouldn’t cripple us) or a bad thing (one player won’t carry us). 

But I’m glad I’m not a Cardinal fan.

For the record, here are my top-3 Jays in franchise history where I would throw up my hands if they were lost for a season.

1. Roy Halladay (2005 – it happened after he broke his leg in July and was lost for the season.  The Jays were done after that.)

2. Roger Clemens (1998)

3. Carlos Delgado (2000)

Quick Poll – Who Would You Rather Have?

With a smile like that, who wouldn't want Delgado back?

 

The top baseball stories of the past few days have nothing to do with the current version of the Toronto Blue Jays. 

They do, however, have everything to do with former members of the organization.

First came word that at 38 years of age, former Blue Jay All-Star Carlos Delgado wants a shot at a major league comeback.  Delgado last played in 2009 for the New York Mets, and is coming off a third hip surgery.

Then yesterday came bigger news that Rangers 3B Michael Young, the face of the Texas ball club, wants out.  He has requested a trade because he has been “misled and manipulated” by the Rangers, and “can’t take it anymore.”  Young, of course, was a fifth round draft choice of the Blue Jays in 1997 and was later dealt in an awful trade for Esteban Loaiza.

Now, both men are available. 

The next question is: who would you rather have on the Jays?

Let’s meet the candidates:

Carlos Delgado

Pros

– Former Blue Jay hero and fan favourite

– 27 HR away from 500 giving fans a milestone to root for

– Would be cheap

– Very nice smile

Cons

– 38 years old

– Hasn’t appeared in a major league game since May 10, 2009

– After three hip surgeries, no guarantees he can even walk let alone swing a bat

– Likely a DH only, meaning EE has to play the field

Michael Young

Pros

– Career .300 hitter

Cons

– 34 years old

– Still has 3 years / $48-million left on his contract

– Can only be acquired via trade

– Using both standard (errors) and advanced (zone fielding runs) metrics, he’s a worse defensive 3B than Encarnacion

– Career .322 AVG / .859 OPS in Texas, but only .279 AVG / .733 OPS on the road, including a weak .717 OPS at Rogers Centre

– Blue Jays are NOT among the eight teams he will consider playing for 

Verdict

Neither

Unless……the Jays can sign Delgado to one of those cheap “I want to finish my career in the place where I started” contracts, AND only start him occasionally, AND use him predominantly as a pinch-hitter, AND put a clause in his contract that says he must come out of the dugout and wave to the fans at some point during every game, AND force him to retire before the end of the season so the Jays can have an on-field tribute to him.

I’d be OK with that.

In fact, I’d quite like that.

Huh?

Lee to the Phillies - a punch in the face to the Yanks

 

The New York Yankees wanted Cliff Lee.  They had history, tradition, fan base, allure, and a powerhouse roster on their side.  They also had money, more money than any other team could offer.  Surely he would choose them.

The Texas Rangers wanted Cliff Lee.  They had new owners (including a hall-of-fame pitcher), a young, competitive team, passionate fans, and proximity to Lee’s home.  They also had familiarity on their side, since he played for them last season.  Oh – Texas also had a lot of money due to new ownership and a new TV contract.  Surely he would choose them.

Then came rumours of a mystery team, likely the Anaheim Angels.  Not only could they offer a ton of money, but they almost had to sign Lee to erase years of offseason failure.  Over the past five or six years they had set their sights on – and failed to acquire – Paul Konerko, Alfonso Soriano, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and this year Carl Crawford.  Surely Lee would sign with them.

Lee wanted a seven-year contract.  Very few teams could offer that.  The Yankees did.

So Cliff Lee signed a five-year deal with the Phillies.

Huh?

It makes no sense.

The Phillies had him – but traded him away.  He didn’t want to go, but they got rid of him anyways. 

The Yankees and Rangers offered him more money and more guaranteed years.

And yet…it makes the most sense in the world.

He loved Philadelphia.  And he loves winning. 

By re-joining the Phillies he returns to the city he enjoyed more than any other during his big league career.  He loved the fans, the park, and felt comfortable.  He also joins the team that has to be considered a World Series favourite, or at the very least the NL favourite.

Think about that rotation – Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels?  Scary.

So it’s back to the drawing board for the Yanks, who now have to hope that an aging Andy Pettitte decides to come back and join an aging Jeter, aging A-Rod, aging Rivera, aging Posada, and broken down Burnett. 

Fans are rejoicing.

************************

Two rapid thoughts before signing off:

1. Yes Lee turned down the Yankees.  Yes he didn’t choose the highest bidder.  But can we please stop anointing him a saint?  It’s not like he turned down $148-million to become a bank teller.  He turned down $148-million for $100-million (maybe more).  As I read last night on Twitter (can’t remember who wrote it): it’s much easier to leave $50-million on the table when you have $100-million.

2. My free-agent predictions have been pathetic, just as bad as my playoff predictions.  Aside from the obvious (Jeter and Rivera back with NY), I have only nailed Victor Martinez to Detroit.  I was wrong on Jayson Werth (I said Boston), Carl Crawford (Anaheim), Lee (NY), Adam Dunn (A’s), Paul Konerko (Rangers), and Jorge De La Rosa (Rangers).

A Turd That Won’t Flush

The free agency period has begun. 

The arbitration deadline has come and gone. 

Everybody who is in any way interested in the great game of baseball now waits with great anticipation to see where the big names will fall. 

Jeter.  Rivera.  Werth.  Crawford.  Lee.  Upton.  Greinke.  Ramirez.  The list is long.

Some bigger names have already signed deals (Joaquin Benoit, Aubrey Huff), but did you know that 73 different players have signed free agent contracts thus far?  Most are of the minor league variety, but many names are familiar:

– Jay Gibbons (to the LA Dodgers)

– Justin Miller (to Seattle)

– Dallas McPherson (to the White Sox)

– Josh Barfield (to Philadelphia)

But one name in particular stood out.  I was so shocked and horrified to see his name that I practically pulled a Mama Cass and choked on my sandwich. 

My friends, on November 11th, the one-and-only Kevin Cash signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers.

Kevin Cash has been, and continues to be, a sore spot with me.  He was once the crown jewel of Toronto’s farm system, known as our “Catcher of the Future”.  But he was so bad, so terribly pathetic at the plate, that the future came to an end in three years.

Since that time I like to think of Cash as a turd that won’t flush.  He is a piece of crap that just won’t go away, coming so close, so many times to being out of baseball for good (full season in triple-A in 2006, a brief retirement in 2009), but popping back up shortly thereafter.

How he continues to find teams is beyond me, a miracle of modern day society.  His career stats are vomit inducing: .183 average, .248 OBP, .278 SLG, .526 OPS, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 195 K’s, in 641 AB over 8 seasons.

He has a career WAR of -3.6, meaning that a minor league player would have provided a team with almost four more wins than Cash. 

Yet somehow Kevin Cash is still a sought after commodity.  It would be less of a slap in the face if it was the Royals or Pirates who kept signing him.  But no – he has played for Tampa Bay, Boston (where he actually won a World Series in ’07), New York, and Houston.  Now it is the defending AL Champion Texas Rangers who bring him off the scrap heap.  Come on!

Maybe he wowed Texas with his new-found versatility – he pitched an inning for Houston last year (3 H, 1 ER). 

Maybe it was because he had the second greatest stretch of his career playing in the state of Texas (20 games, .204 average, .605 OPS, 2 HR).

Whatever the case may be, please MLB – stop recycliing Kevin Cash! 

And while you’re at it, do the same with Eric Hinske.

Yours truly,

500 Level Fan

ps. I don’t like Kevin Cash.